It's the all new 2014 Mini Cooper, and it really is all new inside and out -- that's not a facelift, even though drivers unfamiliar with the marque may find it a little tough to spot the differences on the outside. The Mini Cooper has actually grown in almost every dimension, not only for the benefit of the rear seat passengers and the driver, but also for pedestrian safety -- that's why the Cooper has a longer nose, which is also a good way to tell it apart from the model it replaces.
Specifically, the 2014 Mini Cooper is 4.5 inches longer, 1.7 inches wider, and just under an inch taller than the outgoing model. The wheelbase has grown only by about an inch, so most of the increase in length is due to more generous front and rear overhangs. Exterior design remains unmistakably Mini, to the point where the uninitiated will mistake it for the previous model, though the larger headlights and tail lights featuring quite a bit more chrome are other indicators. The hexagonal grille is a bit larger as well, but overall Mini is settling into a Porsche 911-like evolutionary path -- no need to mess with success.
Under the hood are two new engines, including a three-cylinder that's a first for the brand under BMW's roof. The 1.5-liter turbocharged I-3 makes 134 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque, which yields a 7.4 second sprint to 60 coupled with the base six-speed manual transmission (7.3 seconds with a six-speed automatic). That's actually a 2.5-second improvement over the old 1.6-liter four-cylinder that this 1.5-liter unit replaces; a reduction in weight as well as gain in fuel efficiency are nice side benefits. EPA figures aren't out yet, but Mini is estimating 30 mpg in the city and 41 on the highway for the six-speed manual model, for a combined 34 mpg.
The sportier Cooper S model receives a new engine for 2014 as well, and this is the one to go for if you prefer your go-kart handling with an extra shot of rocket fuel. The 2.0-liter I-4 now makes 189 hp compared to 181 hp in the model it replaces, while torque output grows from 177 lb-ft in the old Cooper S to 207 lb-ft. Overboost can kick that up to 221 lb-ft, but the 0 to 60 times of 6.5 seconds with a manual transmission or 6.4 seconds with an automatic are plenty. Once again, EPA figures aren't out for the Cooper S, but Mini estimates that it'll do 23 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway in the manual version of the Cooper S, and 28 mpg in the city and 40 mpg on the highway in the automatic, so just a tad less than its three-cylinder sibling.
On the inside, the 2014 Mini Cooper's luggage compartment has grown by 3 cubic feet for a total of 8.7 cubic feet, so Mini engineers have been listening to owners when it came to revamping the usability of the interior. The basic look of the dash has been largely preserved, and the center of the dash is dominated by an infotainment system in the form of a circular screen, controlled via a knob positioned just south of the gear lever.
Speaking of the gear lever, its base is surrounded by a ring that allows the driver to dial it to Sport or Green mode, in addition to the default mode. Sport mode adjusts not only the shifting characteristics (with automatic transmission), damper settings, steering feel, and engine acoustics, but also the ambient lighting of the dash and interior trim. Green mode conserves energy by muting air conditioning use, and in automatic transmission models it offers a coasting function at speeds over 31 mph, which decouples the drivetrain when the driver takes his foot off the gas. Stop-start is also available for extra fuel savings.
What's It Like to Drive?
We spent a day driving the three-cylinder Mini Cooper and four-cylinder Mini Cooper S around the hills of Puerto Rico, dodging oncoming traffic that seemed to follow the maritime "Tonnage Rule" where the vessel with the greatest gross tonnage always has the right of way. Driving a Mini Cooper meant that somebody else always had the right of way, but what we lacked in mass we made up for with the Cooper's impressive handling abilities.
The base three-cylinder Cooper with a six-speed manual transmission offered the handling Mini buyers have come to love, with its notchy, short-throw manual lever never requiring too much work. The steering was always eager to return to center, which made snaking through the island's back roads a breeze. The 134-hp provided by the three-cylinder mill was more than enough to motivate the not-so-little-anymore hardtop, and we never really encountered a situation where we had to downshift and rev, even when tackling obscenely steep inclines.
For such a tight-handling car, the suspension swallowed up the (often severe) imperfections in the road with ease, much better than you'd expect. Mini has obviously spent a great deal of time tweaking the suspension, and this has paid off nicely with the ride quality that you get, no matter which driving mode you're in. Driving noise was well suppressed at highway speeds, though if you're looking for Rolls-Royce style silence, then you're shopping at the wrong BMW Group dealership.
As good as the base Cooper was, the Cooper S was an entirely different beast altogether, which we tried in six-speed automatic flavor. The 2.0-liter TwinPower turbocharged engine was quite a bit more rabid than you'd expect just considering the power figures on paper, and the car was eager to get going no matter the road or driving style. The suspension was a bit firmer in Sport mode, but this never translated into discomfort, even on the harshest roads that Puerto Rico had to offer -- and it had plenty to offer.
Some things, such as tweaking the position of the head-up display, took quite a bit of menu spelunking since we were new to the car, but the infotainment system now has a lot more in common with smartphone layouts than with the first iDrive menus of which it is a grandchild.
Do I Want One?
Mini is no longer alone in the premium compact segment, though the Fiat 500 is perhaps just a bit too small to present direct competition to what is in effect a very small and very fun hatch. This new version stays true to the first-gen (BMW-produced) model that premiered over a decade ago, adding power and improving fuel efficiency while remaining distinct in a range that now includes seven cars.
Nicely equipped three-door hardtops will really be found in the $24,000 range, keeping it out of Mercedes-Benz CLA price territory; there is plenty of fun to be had even if you only have around $20,000 to spend. The Cooper S model is almost too much of a good thing -- the base three-cylinder offers plenty of entertainment on short and long trips.
If you still need more room but don't want to spring for the Countryman, wait for the five-door hardtop -- that's coming later this summer.
2014 Mini Cooper and Cooper S price and specifications
On Sale: March 2014
Base Price: Cooper: $20,745. Cooper S: $24,395
Drivetrain: Cooper: 1.5-liter TwinPower turbocharged three-cylinder, Cooper S: 2.0-liter TwinPower turbocharged inline-four, FWD.
Output: Cooper: 134-hp & 162 lb-ft, Cooper S: 189-hp & 207 lb-ft.
0-60: Cooper: 7.3/7.4 seconds auto/manual, Cooper S: 6.4/6.5 seconds auto/manual
Curb Weight: Cooper: 2,605 lbs., Cooper S: 2,760 lbs.
Cooper automatic: 30 city/42 hwy, Cooper manual: 30 city/41 hwy
Cooper S automatic: 28 city/40 hwy, Cooper S manual: 23 city/37 hwy
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